Welcome to my desk.
This area is for writers. All writers. I don't believe in the term "aspiring" writer. You are a writer or you are not. I aspire to put a period at the end of this sentence. There, I did it. So, I'm no longer aspiring. If you've written anything—even if it sucks, you are a writer. Getting paid to write is a whole 'nuther box of doughnuts.
Let's tackle some of the most often asked questions...
I believe nearly all how-to books on screenwriting are crap. Almost every one is written by someone who failed to ever forge a career as a screenwriter, or maybe they wrote one movie that got made, then failed to ever deliver anything good enough to remain employed, and thus, took to "teaching."
I believe anyone who spends money on Robert McKee's overpriced, overcomplicated, overblown STORY seminars would do much more for their career if they took that money and used it to go have life experiences away from the keyboard.
How-to books and writing seminars can teach you how to construct a story or plot, they can teach you where to place inciting incidents and give you ideas on creating characters, but none of them can teach you how to write.
Tony Gilroy said it best—"The quality of your writing is absolutely capped at your understanding of human behavior. You will never write above what you know about people."
Let me type that again... The quality of your writing is absolutely capped at your understanding of human behavior. You will never write above what you know about people.
I believe there has never been a greater truth spoken about writing.
McKee and Field and Vogler and Snyder and Truby and all the rest CANNOT TEACH YOU ONE THING ABOUT HUMAN BEHAVIOR.
So, save your money and go experience life.
Now, why is this section called Recommended Reading? Because I do believe there are some books that are certainly worth reading. But as you'll see from my list, they are not the cookie cutter versions; they are about the inside part of writing. The good part.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
The first half of this excellent book is about how King "became" a writer. The second half is one of the best manuals on the nuts & bolts of writing from a craft standpoint, and King does not pull any punches.
Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
Funny and smart, just like the author. This book won't give you tips on an inciting incident or how many pages your third act should be, but you'll probably write better after reading it just for the brief glimpse inside Lamott's brilliant mind.
Shakespeare For Screenwriters by J. M. Evenson
This is a newer title that I came across recently via Twitter. I was skeptical, but when I read it, I found it to be short, insightful and fresh. The author breaks down some of the greatest stories by one of our greatest scribes, and along the way offers ways to apply his work to yours.
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias
I love this book because there's no BS. It is simply a Q&A with some of the most successful (and best) screenwriters in the business. Don't just pay attention to what they're saying, but be aware of what they're NOT saying.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
This book is about running, but under the surface, it is about writing, and the writer's life. It's great for inspiration, as well as how to think your way out of blocked situations, writing and otherwise.
No, not a book titled "Fiction"—I mean fiction. Novels. Short stories. Not screenplays. Yes, reading screenplays can help you because reading anything can help you. But I believe reading fiction (good fiction) can give a screenwriter something reading screenplays can't... a deeper look into character and subtext and description.
When we pen a screenplay we have parameters such as page count and blocks of lines, sometimes even production issues. But novels and short stories are all about the story. All about the writing. And when you read quality fiction, your writer's mind just automatically goes to work while you're reading and imagining and digesting. I've learned more as a screenwriter from reading John Updike and Flannery O'Connor and James Lee Burke than I ever did from reading screenplays.
For me, music is my single greatest inspiration. I simply cannot write anything without music.
When on staff of a television series, I have given more than one showrunner a heart attack because I could not start writing my episode until I found the right music.
I have over 6200 songs on my iTunes. I have playlists for every project I write. I will spend days (and at times weeks) searching for the right music for whatever I am writing. Once I do, I listen to that playlist over and over and over as I write. Sometimes, the playlist gets altered as I go. Certain songs will get added or deleted, but the guts of it remains the same.
I will be listing the playlists of certain writing projects on this site from time to time, so be sure and check back in with the WritersDesk when you can.
I write screenplays mainly, though am diving deeper into the prose world. But my day job is screenwriting, and that is a visual medium. Certain screenwriters are praised for their "cinematic" style... what does that mean? They write visually. It would serve you well to do the same.
When I am working on a project, I will put photos up on my desktop or walls—photos of either the locations where my story is taking place, or photos that simply inspire me. Like my playlists, I will post photos here from time to time coinciding with whatever project I'm typing.
We all have people who inspire us from time to time. For that reason, I give you my own personal GALLERY OF HEROES.
And finally, something that is so disturbing, so utterly horrifying, that it should never be seen by anyone anywhere ever... except here.